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Posted March 21, 2016 in Lifestyle by Tom Brassell
It was a milestone season for golf in 1966. Jack Nicklaus won The Masters that April and then captured his first Open Championship in July, making him only the fourth player in history to take all four professional majors in his career. In between those tourneys, Billy Casper staged one of the greatest U.S. Open charges ever when he came back from seven shots down in the final round of regulation play to tie Arnold Palmer – and then beat him in a playoff the following day.
That year also saw Lionel Hebert prevail in the Florida Citrus Open at the Rio Pinar Country Club outside Orlando, Fla., and in many ways, his triumph at the inaugural playing of what is known today as the Arnold Palmer Invitational was as significant as any other that year. Not for Hebert’s play, good as it might have been, or because of the stature of the event. But rather, it was due to the newly minted Ping Anser putter he used. His triumph represented the first tour victory for the futurist-looking flat stick, which was designed by a goateed Norwegian native named Karsten Solheim. And it marked the beginning of a half-century of domination in professional golf, with Ping Ansers capturing more than 500 tour wins in the years that followed and variations of that design from different clubmakers being as successful.
“Karsten’s design was genius because of how well it performed and how different it was,” says Ping Chairman and CEO John Solheim, who remembers helping his father build the original Anser in the family’s Scottsdale, Ariz., garage as a teenager, and whose company continues to roll out iterations of that model. “Golfers had never seen anything like. Some even called it a ‘plumber’s nightmare’ because of the hosel and all the kinks it had. But it worked brilliantly, and it changed putter design forever.”
Karsten Solheim was working as an engineer for what was then the General Electric Co. when he began making putters in his garage in 1959. And he enjoyed some successes with his early models, among them the 1-A and the Ping 69. “But Karsten believed that he needed to create another putter to set us apart from other clubmakers,” John Solheim says.
Karsten began working ideas for just such an advance, and in January 1966, he had what his son describes as a “flash,” which prompted him to quickly sketch the design of the first Anser on the dust jacket of a 78-rpm record. The drawing featured an offset hosel that gave golfers a clean view of the clubface as well as perimeter weighting that made the putter more forgiving.
Solheim quickly made some samples and brought several versions to the 1966 Phoenix Open, which was played that year during the second week of February. By that time, the putter had acquired a name. Initially, Karsten’s wife, Louise, had suggested calling it “the Answer,” because he believed it would solve putting problems. But Karsten thought the name was too long to fit on the clubhead. So she told him to take out the “w,” and Anser was born.
Solheim showed his new flat stick to several touring professionals at Phoenix, and it wasn’t long before a number of them put one in their bags, among them George Archer, Kermit Zarley, Gene Littler and Hebert. Hebert notched the Anser’s first PGA Tour win in Florida in mid-March, and two months after that, Solheim applied for an Anser patent. That was granted in the spring of 1967, and two years later, the putter captured its first major championship, thanks to Archer, who used an Anser to win the 1969 Masters.
“We made the early 1-A putters out of brass,” says John Solheim. “But that was too soft a metal, so we began to use high-strength manganese bronze with the Anser instead. The original Ansers weighed about 300 grams, and a lot of players put lead tape on them to make them a bit heavier. The club set up so beautifully, the weighting was just right and it put the shaft ahead of the club so a player could pull his putter through the ball. It worked really well.”
Indeed, it did, and John says he remembers lots of the big wins that came with the Anser over the years. “George Archer’s was important, being our first major,” he says. “Bubba Watson’s two Masters were special, as were Angel Cabrera’s U.S. Open, and Louis Oosthuizen’s British (Open). Then, there were Seve’s 43 wins with an Anser.”
Ping enjoyed 17 years of exclusivity with the Anser. But patent laws decreed that other clubmakers could begin copying that design in 1984. Many began doing so, and their imitations proved to be the sincerest forms of flattery, to say nothing of serving as the ultimate affirmation of Karsten Solheim’s initial design.
Which is just one more reason why the Anser’s 50th anniversary is well worth celebrating.
By John Steinbreder – Global Golf Post